Lessons from My Children: Always Ask “Why?”

By October 9, 2018NESCA Notes 2018


By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

There is a lot that we can learn from our children. They are not as burdened as we, and they approach life with more vigor, wonder, and confidence. With this, they do a lot of important things that we adults have forgotten to do.

Right now, both of my boys are at ages when they are constantly asking, “Why?” For my two year old, it may sound something like this:

Me: “It’s time to put on our shoes.”
Him: “Why?”
Me: “Because we have to go to school.”
Him: “Why?”
Me: “Because we leave at 7:45.”
Him: “Why?”
Me: “Because I have to be at work at 8:15.”
Him: “Why?”

I think you can see where that one is going…

For my five year old, the questioning is a little more sophisticated:

“Why can’t we feel the earth moving?”
“Why do the teens always start with number one?”
“Why is ‘W’ an upside down ‘M’?”

While sometimes the incessant questioning can make a parent’s head spin, asking “why” is how children learn about the world. Questioning is one of the primary tools aiding children’s cognitive development. But in spite of the importance of questioning early on, as we get older, we increasingly forget to make such inquiries. While this may be for understandable reasons – life is busy, we are set in our routines, we have learned to trust the expertise and opinions of others, etc. – such lack of questioning can often interfere with our ability to effectively solve life’s dilemmas, and effectively help our children.

At NESCA, families and caregivers seek out our evaluations for a range of concerns: reading interventions were tried, but they did not work; a child’s behavior is out of control, but they are not responding to the behavioral plan; a teenager is not motivated to do their schoolwork, and they are failing; or conversely, in spite of spending five hours per night on homework, the teen is still failing.

What is most often happening in these situations is that there is not a sufficient understanding of why the child is struggling, and so well-intentioned attempts at helping are rendered fruitless.

Things are not always as they seem. Behavior, be it academic difficulties or noncompliance, is a symptom of an underlying issue. So while some children struggle to read because they are delayed in the acquisition of phonological skills and other foundations of reading, other children may struggle to read because of deficits in things like visual scanning and processing, attention, and/or auditory processing. For the out of control child, if their noncompliance is based in underlying anxiety and their need to avoid anxiety triggers and feared situations, then behavioral plans that are not paired with anxiety-focused therapeutic interventions will be ineffective.

It is because of the need to know “why” that NESCA’s neuropsychologists always conduct the most comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations. Unless we know the underlying reasons for a client’s challenges, we cannot create the well-informed recommendations and roadmap for how to help them make progress. Through in-depth inquiry and investigation, we get a detailed understanding of a client’s strengths and challenges. We find the reason “why.”

So, while I may sometimes get tired of answering my children’s near-constant questioning, they may have this one right. It is only with ongoing contemplation and inquiry that we can be confident in our understanding of the world, and of our children.


About the Author:

Dr. Angela Currie conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments out of NESCA’s Londonderry, NH and Newton, MA offices, seeing individuals with a wide range of concerns. She enjoys working with stressed-out children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors that may be lending to their stress, including assessment of possible underlying learning challenges (such as dyslexia or nonverbal learning disability), attentional deficit, or executive function weakness. She also often conducts evaluations with children confronting more primary emotional and anxiety-related challenges, such as generalized anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, or depression. Dr. Currie particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

To book an evaluation or consultation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.